Large planets may not form fractionally large moons

Miki Nakajima, Hidenori Genda, Erik Asphaug, Shigeru Ida

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

One of the unique aspects of Earth is that it has a fractionally large Moon, which is thought to have formed from a Moon-forming disk generated by a giant impact. The Moon stabilizes the Earth’s spin axis at least by several degrees and contributes to Earth’s stable climate. Given that impacts are common during planet formation, exomoons, which are moons around planets in extrasolar systems, should be common as well, but no exomoon has been confirmed. Here we propose that an initially vapor-rich moon-forming disk is not capable of forming a moon that is large with respect to the size of the planet because growing moonlets, which are building blocks of a moon, experience strong gas drag and quickly fall toward the planet. Our impact simulations show that terrestrial and icy planets that are larger than ~1.3−1.6R produce entirely vapor disks, which fail to form a fractionally large moon. This indicates that (1) our model supports the Moon-formation models that produce vapor-poor disks and (2) rocky and icy exoplanets whose radii are smaller than ~1.6R are ideal candidates for hosting fractionally large exomoons.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number568
JournalNature communications
Volume13
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Dec 2022

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Chemistry(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Physics and Astronomy(all)

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